Tuesday, July 31, 2007

abortion, and confusion of past and future

I was reading a discussion on Slashdot today, and it somehow degenerated into an abortion argument. I realized I've never tried to organize my thoughts on the subject, since the topic is generally avoided like the plague (and for good reason). But this is a blog and I don't care. So here goes.

What we have is the anti-abortionists and pro-abortionists. I won't call them "pro life" and "pro choice" because those terms are biased. What I think both sides can agree on is that embryos and fetuses are alive. Yeah, that's about the extent of their agreement. Anti-abortionists say that embryos are much more than just "alive", they are actually people. Personally I find that assertion ridiculous. We don't go from being a mass of cells to an adult instantaneously. An embryo slowly takes on more and more properties of what's commonly called a "person" - such as a personality, an identity, not to mention a brain, arms, legs and various organs.

Often anti-abortionists say that life begins at conception. Again, they change the definition of a word to suit their own purposes - "life". When people speak of their lives, they generally don't include the time they spent in the womb. Of course they don't, what would they say?

"How was your pre-birth childhood, was it a happy one?"
"Well, I was pretty much just floating around in the dark the whole time, occasionally kicking at the walls. I'd say it was uneventful."
"Hey, me too! You want to hang out later?"

Anti-abortionists use an alternate definition of "life": they throw in the "soul" at conception. Oddly, they only use this definition when talking about abortion, in all other conversations they use the standard definition. I won't hear any of this business about a "soul". There's a million reasons why the concept of a soul makes no sense (except as a tool to increase the church's tax-free income), but it can easily be summed up in a hilarious way by Monty Python's "Every Sperm is Sacred". If it's possible for a soul to inhabit a fertilized egg, why not a sperm?

Let me point out some temporal trickery involved in anti-abortion rhetoric. For instance, in a bumper sticker that says "Smile, your mom chose life". This equates your parent's combined gametes to "you" the adult, which is the inherent lie. What the anti-abortionists are doing is conjuring you into existence at a time when you didn't exist, which of course they can only do in their imagination. Reality, on the other hand, has certain rules. At the moment your mom "chose life", your present adult self didn't exist, and nothing can change this fact.

A similar story is of those children who eventually find out that they were a "mistake", or that their mothers had considered an abortion. The natural reaction is one of sadness and rejection, just as if their mom had considered poisoning their Froot Loops just last week. Hey, relax kid. It's not as if your mom knew back then what kind of person you'd become, and decided she didn't like you. You didn't exist.

I won't criticize people for feeling this way, because it's a natural human failing. People just have a hard time imagining the world without them in it, in some form or another. They might imagine this scenario as though looking through wormhole in time, seeing the disturbing scene of their embryo-self being killed, and think, "Oh no, I've been killed. Abortion is horrible". But that isn't how it would have happened, your present adult self wouldn't actually have been there. Your present self would never have existed at all. While it may be natural to project ourselves into existence, it isn't real. It certainly shouldn't be allowed to influence national abortion policy.

I don't think abortion is "right", and as the weeks of the pregnancy progress it gets even more wrong. However I do think it should remain legal. By the time an abortion decision is made, something has already gone wrong - an unwanted pregnancy. The best solution to the abortion "problem" is avoiding unwanted pregnancy in the first place. I think that is what we should be focusing on, not whether abortion is moral or not. Contraception is cheap, effective and relatively easy to use. There's no excuse for not teaching people. "Abstinence" programs are fuel for the abortion conflict. It's not only the church's fault, but their greed is contributing the the problem that they're very quick to blame on individual women and their doctors.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I just wanted to say, after the plane crash at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo the other day, that I've been there. And I must say, the oddity of that runway was immediately obvious. As you are driving to the airport, the road passes right by the end of the runway. I'd say the distance from the end of the runway to the road is 100 yards. In the intervening distance, there's a steep hill that leads down to the road from the runway with several large red metal landing ligh structures. It's pretty clear that any plane that overshoots the runway is doomed.

In the photo, my plane is about to take a right turn onto the runway, and take off in the opposite direction that the doomed TAM flight landed. Notice the woman in the photo clearly visible walking along the sidewalk of that road.


Here's a google earth photo that shows the bird's eye view. The plane in the photo is in almost exactly the same place where the above photo was taken.

Google Earth of Congonhas